By Jeremy Herb and Kristina Wong - 03/27/14 07:10 PM EDT
The Topline: A partisan dispute on the House Armed Services Committee spilled into the public eye on Thursday after ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) criticized Republicans for excluding Democrats from a Ukraine briefing.
Smith said it was “deeply troubling” that Republicans held a briefing with Gen. Philip Breedlove, the top U.S. commander in Europe and NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
Claude Chafin, a spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), said that the Thursday meeting with Breedlove did not “degrade the bipartisan spirit of this committee.”
Chafin said that McKeon had arranged the meeting as a follow-up to a bipartisan meeting that was held with Breedlove on Wednesday.
A meeting was already scheduled for McKeon to meet with Breedlove ahead of a hearing next week, and McKeon decided to invite the Republican subpanel chairmen who had signed onto a letter on Ukraine that was sent to President Obama on Wednesday.
Smith’s statement puts on display a rare public dispute in the House Armed Services Committee, which frequently touts its bipartisanship on the annual Defense authorization bill.
Smith also slammed Republicans for their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it was “absurd” for lawmakers to attribute the Russian aggression to Obama’s weakness orto budget cuts.
“In 2008, when our defense budget was at an all time high and George Bush was president, Russia attacked Georgia and occupied two of its provinces,” Smith said. “Putin made a calculation at that time that we would not respond militarily, and we did not. It had nothing to do with our defense budget or the perceived strength of a president.”
Smith’s Ukraine criticism made for the second time he’s gone after Republicans on the Armed Services Committee this week. On Tuesday he urged the committee Republicans to stop their Benghazi “witch-hunt.”
House and Senate pass Ukraine aid bills: The House and Senate passed Ukraine aid bills Thursday, with the Senate voting unanimously and the House voting 399-19.
Because the bills are different, they will need to be reconciled before being sent to the president for his signature.
The House is expected to approve the Senate’s version, which would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine, as well as millions for democracy promotion and security funding, and to sanction Russian officials.
The House could pass the Senate bill as early as Friday morning.
Commanders fired in Air Force cheating scandal: Nine commanders were fired by the Air Force Thursday and another resigned in the fallout of the Air Force’s cheating scandal in its nuclear missile squads.
The Air Force said the commanders were being relieved of duty after a cheating ring uncovered dozens of cases where missileers had cheated on their proficiency tests or had known about the cheating but didn’t do anything about it.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that the Air Force was taking dramatic steps in the wake of the scandal to change the way nuclear proficiency tests are conducted and to improve morale at ICBM bases.
An investigation into the cheating scandal found 100 junior officers at Malstrom Air Force Base in Montana were potentially involved in the cheating. Nine were cleared, and the others face a range of punishments, up to potential courts-martial.
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